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Indecent: Theater review by Adam Feldman
The first of many striking images in Indecent, images that inscribe themselves into your memory, comes early. A stage manager, Lemml (Richard Topol), introduces the members of his Yiddish-theater troupe to the audience. As they take their places, dust begins to pour from their sleeves onto the floor. When they begin to dance—to the klezmer strains of a violin, clarinet and accordion—wisps continue to slip from their clothes, like faint clouds of smoke.
Cocreated by playwright Paula Vogel and director Rebecca Taichman, the illuminating and heartbreaking Indecent surveys nearly 50 years of history related to Sholem Asch’s 1906 play, God of Vengeance, which depicts a Jewish brothel keeper whose daughter becomes involved with one of his whores. Although the play was a success in Europe, it was toned down for its 1923 Broadway debut. Even so, it included a lesbian kiss and the desecration of a holy scroll, and its cast and producer were prosecuted for obscenity. (“The time has come when the drama must be purified,” wrote a judge.)
Employing a variety of theatrical devices—humor and irony, time shifts, cross-casting, explanatory titles, interstitial cabaret songs and dances—Indecent has the scope of an epic but the intimacy of a chamber piece. The excellent actors (Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi and Adina Verson) play dozens of characters, changing locations and accents but always sharing the same darkling world. (Christopher Akerlind’s lights make the stage seem charred around the edges.) As it celebrates and illustrates the power of theater, Indecent sits shiva for its Yiddish branch. It is an elegant and open-hearted tribute to a murdered world of culture: Asch to ashes, audiences to dust.
Vineyard Theatre (Off Broadway). By Paula Vogel. Directed by Rebecca Taichman. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 40mins. No intermission.
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